VR demo

Justin Peters, one of the developers who helped create the new VR Boise Airport app for children with autism, demonstrates it at the Boise Library main branch on Thursday.

Let’s face it — none of us looks forward to going to the airport.

From baggage check-in to settling into your seat, there are a myriad of things that can go awry, turn up the anxiety level or just be plain old frustrating.

For a young person with autism, it can be a nightmare.

“For someone on the spectrum, there are lots of sensory-overload issues,” said Anthony Ellertson, director of the Games and Interactive Media Mobile program at Boise State University. Ellertson knows what he’s talking about. “I have a 14-year-old boy with autism who is nonverbal,” he said.

Ellertson explained how a new app created by his team of developers can make a trip to the airport less overwhelming for kids with autism.

“It can help climatize them and to help them understand the rules they have to go by at the airport,” he said. “’Where am I going to next? How do I get to this checkpoint? How do I find my seat?’”

The app, created in about six weeks, start to finish, by about 16 GIMM developers, is a joint project with the city of Boise and BSU.

Boise State students collaborated with airport employees to create a real-life airport experience. The students, who participated in a work-study program through the GIMM lab, were responsible for creating the script, and filming and editing the virtual reality program.

The result is an app available for parents as a free download to use at home, or during VR hours at the Boise Public Library’s main branch, that can help children with autism navigate the airport environment.

And, while they haven’t accrued any feedback from users yet, “part of the release is to see how it works,” Ellertson said.

“We designed the program so it is very easy to approach and use,” said one of the app’s developers, Justin Peters, in a demonstration at Boise Public Library for the media on Thursday. Peters said the project began with a storyboard, mapping out what a typical airport trip might entail, and then adding a script for kids “friendly and easy to understand.” He also said the app is created at eye level for kids.

The app takes a little more than five minutes to get through and is something some children might want to experience a number of times before making the actual trip to the airport, Ellertson said.

According to Ellertson, this app is one of many that may be coming down the pike — some soon.

“There will be more like this,” he said. “We can take these ideas and have an app ready pretty rapidly.”

For kids with autism, other apps could be about going to the grocery store or interacting with a dog, Ellertson said. There is also one that could help autistic children with their handwriting.

GIMM is also working on an app for people who have to sit a long time, such as during cancer treatments or dialysis, that takes them on a virtual trip to Idaho mountains. Another is for children who are deaf, to not only help them learn sign language but to help translate it into verbal language.

Ellertson said he hopes he gets more ideas for practical VR applications from people in the community. You can send your ideas via email to: anthonyellertson@boisestate.edu.

“We’re actively looking for projects,” Ellertson said. “If there’s a problem in the community, and we think there’s a hi-tech solution, we want to take a look at it.”

And, much like the airport app, any others GIMM creates will be at no or low cost to users, Ellertson said. “This is all done for the benefit of all.”

Jeanne Huff is the community engagement editor for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at 208-465-8106 and follow her on Twitter @goodnewsgirl.

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